Take three -- raising the dropout age to 18 clears House education committee

01/17/2012 05:22 PM

For the third straight year, the measure backed by Kentucky’s first lady that would gradually raise the minimum age to drop out of school to 18 won overwhelming support in the House education committee on Tuesday. But the question remains whether it can get enough support once it gets to the state Senate.

The measure, a top priority for first lady Jane Beshear, would make Kentucky the 22nd state to require students to stay in school until they are 18 years old. Beshear testified on behalf of the bill as she has the last two General Assembly sessions.

Hasan Davis, a youth advocate, said national statistics show that raising the dropout age has a domino effect on reducing crime.

Davis, a Berea College graduate who served as vice chairman of the federal advisory committee on juvenile justice in 2004, listed a host of statistics:

In past sessions, some lawmakers have balked at the bill because they said it wouldn’t help if the state can’t fund alternative education programs aimed at helping students most at-risk of dropping out.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jeff Greer of Brandenburg, said the bill would call for certain standards those alternative programs would have to meet — but would do so through regulations not by re-writing the law.

The measure passed the education committee with just one “no” vote from Republican Rep. Jim DeCesare of Rockfield. DeCesare said schools would need more money to keep 17 and 18-year-olds not only in the classroom — but engaged in the curriculum. And he said with last year’s low estimate of the number of students to enroll in public schools, districts already are essentially dealing with a budget cut.

The bill would raise the age in which students would stay in school to 17 starting in the 2016-17 school year. By the next year, all students must stay in school until they’re 18 — with the exception being for students who graduate early.

Gov. Steve Beshear said earlier this year he hopes to garner bipartisan support for the measure in the Senate, noting that Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon had sponsored a companion bill similar to Greer’s. Beshear mentioned Higdon’s bill in his State of the Commonwealth Address two weeks ago.


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